NASA’s Cassini will end its mission Friday by plunging into Saturn’s atmosphere. The final phase of the mission, called the Grand Finale, will end the spacecraft’s 20 years in space.
Cassini’s Grand Finale will be live streamed on NASA TV, the agency’s website and the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory YouTube channel on Friday. Sept. 15 beginning at 7 a.m. EDT. NASA’s Cassini Post-End of Mission News Conference will begin at 9:30 a.m. EDT.
Here’s where to watch the live coverage of Cassini’s last moments:
YouTube channel: NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory
Cassini’s 20-Year Mission
Cassini, equipped with the European Space Agency’s Huygens probe, launched into space on Oct.15, 1997. Both arrived at Saturn on June 30, 2004 after seven years of traveling through the solar system. Cassini and the probe’s mission was to study Saturn, its rings, moons and magnetosphere.
The probe, which was about 9 feet wide and weighed about 700 pounds, was plunged into Saturn’s giant moon Titan in 2005. The Huygens probe became the first manmade object to land on a body in the outer solar system and holds the record as the most distant landing from our planet. The probe spent about three and half hours analyzing Titan’s atmosphere and surface until its battery died, leaving Cassini on its own.
In 2010, Cassini started a seven-year mission extension in which it completed multiple moon flybys while studying seasonal changes on Saturn and Titan. Cassini’s Grand Finale kicked off in April 2017, when it was placed on an impact course for over five months including 22 dives through space between the planet and its rings. The orbits are to collect information on the origins of the rings, as well as the nature of Saturn’s interior. The phase brings Cassini closer to the planet than ever before.
Cassini’s Grand Finale
On the final dive, the spacecraft will plunge into Saturn’s orbit, while at the same time fighting to keep its antenna pointed to Earth as it transmits its last moments. During its dive into the atmosphere, Cassini’s speed will be about 70,000 miles per hour. NASA predicts loss of contact with the spacecraft will take place on Sept. 15 at 7:55 a.m. EDT. Cassini will disintegrate in Saturn’s skies, endings its two decades in space and becoming part of the planet itself.
“The spacecraft’s final signal will be like an echo,” Earl Maize, Cassini project manager at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., said in a statement. “It will radiate across the solar system for nearly an hour and a half after Cassini itself has gone. Even though we’ll know that, at Saturn, Cassini has already met its fate, its mission isn’t truly over for us on Earth as long as we’re still receiving its signal.”
Cassini has sent back images and data to Earth, like views of planets in the solar system, including Saturn and its moons, as well as stunning pictures of the planet’s rings. While Friday marks the finale of Cassini, it’s not the end of all the information it has sent back to Earth.
“Although the spacecraft may be gone after the finale, its enormous collection of data about Saturn – the giant planet itself, its magnetosphere, rings and moons — will continue to yield new discoveries for decades,” NASA said on its site.